Thoughts on analogue

We had a short city break in Bordeaux recently. I like to drink decent wine, and if you visit Bordeaux you’ll be encouraged to head to the City of Wine, which we duly did. This is a new flagship museum where visitors are issued with headphones to queue for long periods in order to press buttons to see, hear or somehow interact with various installations designed to educate them about wine. The City of Wine is expensive and time-intensive, yet after an hour we’d had enough. 

The people who put this place together seem to have applied more consideration into a sophisticated delivery of information and experience rather than the content itself which here, sadly, is not great – some surprising facts, yes, and some nifty animations, but far too much video featuring colourless winemakers spinning variations of the same thing and a lot of historical recreation that’s very pleased with itself despite much of its cleverness disappearing in translation. We cut our losses and made an unscheduled visit across town to Bordeaux's historical museum, the Musée d'Aquitaine. Here, each exhibit is explained with some short text on a small card and we found this collection, by comparison, wholly immersive.

The following evening we had a great dinner in a restaurant we happened to stumble across. Yes, we found it ourselves, rather than taking a tip from Trip Advisor (where it wasn’t). We spoke to the owner at some length and learned that this was his second venture, an addition to an established, chic and popular forerunner. The new place is an organic meat restaurant with some innovative ideas which he wanted to test off radar for several months until he felt it was all working right. We could certainly have missed this place if we’d followed the app-driven crowds to the ‘rated’ destinations.

In a recent column in The Financial Times Tyler Brûlée scoffed at media companies who decided a decade ago to throw their entire lot in with digital apps and platforms. There’s now a fairly broad consensus that these projects are still unlikely to turn a profit in the near future so it’s time, he says, ‘to stop thinking reading habits and news appetites are all going to swing exclusively to screens’. Twice at Magalleria a visiting designer has picked up copy of Lürzer's Archive and, unbidden, speculated to me that leafing through this quarterly collection of advertising ‘best bits’ back at the agency would be far more enervating than swiping an iPad in front of glazed-eye clients. magCulture’s Jeremy Leslie says that he’s attended enough development meetings based around design and user experience to know that, if some bright spark proposed using a stapled set of A4 pages you could print and read, everyone would say ‘Thank God! You’ve got the answer!’ 

On any day I’m in Magalleria I know that at least half a dozen people will tell me they thought print was dead, or that magazines are through. There’s also plenty of kindly meant, well-intentioned wishing us well for the future because a business selling only print magazines is, in the minds of many, a courageous but doomed idea. So obviously our thoughts and responses on this are well-rehearsed.

But there’s a whole lot to more to pushing an old technology than people often realise. The quote from Jeremy Leslie earlier is taken from a 2016 book called The Revenge of Analog by David Sax, an informative counter-narrative to our imagined transition to a lovely all-digital, all-problems-solved futurist Shangri-La. Sax is not suggesting there’s a general retreat to luddite ways – digital will remain our way forward – but reveals why so many of us are returning to the technology of the past, and why analogue is resurgent and disruptive. The sheer number of photographs we take on digital devices, for example, renders us unable to look at or visit at many of them again. Our own online store invites you, dear reader, to ‘browse’ our stock (and please, please do) but, however marvellous we contrive to make it, all online shopping is pretty similar and most online retail environments are essentially the same. Which is fine. But walk into a physical store and theoretically you should have a full sensory experience – creative visual merchandising and decor, mood lighting, music, smell, taste, maybe some seating and, most crucially, interaction with people able to provide helpful advice. 

So it seems hardly surprising (if you believe The Revenge of Analog) that bookshops are reappearing. The physical book perfectly illustrates our need for tactility, for physical objects and human interaction. Vinyl sales are booming as we know; from the edge of extinction they now account for more than a quarter of all music sales in the US, and that's just new records – the vast majority of vinyl sales are secondhand. Recent research indicates too that the majority of people buying records in this country are aged between 18 and 24. Vinyl is completely new to them, whereas CDs, iPods, Facebook and even Spotify are things they associate with their parents. Plus, the pennies offered to recording artists from streamed sales are dwarfed by the dollars earned from sales of newly-pressed £18-£20 vinyl records. David Sax pitches a series of analog case studies such as Moleskine notebooks (launched the same year as the Palm Pilot and still unsupplanted in the digital era) and Film Ferrania, an Italian ‘artisanal/industrial’ operation to create premium film photography products that’s backed by the likes of JJ Abrams. Along with Quentin Tarrantino, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan and Judd Apatow, Abrams is another movie heavyweight lobbying Hollywood studios to maintain a significant supply of film for the decades to come. The craze for Lomography and Polaroid has impacted (ironically) on the way we use image apps such as Instagram. Obviously the whole business of controlling, shooting and developing film in all its applications is a difficult art, but the artistic opportunities offered by such an imperfect technology can seem more alluring than the soulless perfection of the digital image. ‘It can’t be good for everybody’, says Nicola Baldini, one of the owners of Ferrania. ‘For everybody else there’s the iPhone.’

There’s a lot of fresh insight here, and even if the Revenge of Analog is slanted in its selections and samey in many places it’s a read I’d happily recommend. It does also back up part of the argument we’ve been putting out at Magalleria from day one: print and digital go hand in glove. We run our inventory and online business with Vend. We run our payments through iZettle. We use Xero for our accounting. We play our store music through Spotify and we do most of our marketing on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

And we make our money from magazines.

Daniel McCabe

AnaloguePopular culture